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Iran - High Noon?


If Iran wanted to get the attention of the world, they certainly succeeded. Announcing that you are developing "nuclear technology," that you "don't give a damn" what the international community thinks, and that you want to achieve a "world without America and Zionism" is bound to raise some eyebrows, as well as the price of oil. There doesn't seem to be a good way to resolve the problem short of economic sanctions, which would probably result in an Iranian oil embargo and a great deal of unpleasantness, and might not be effective.

Israel radio announced several times today that representatives of the permanent members of the security council and Germany met in Paris today and agreed that Iran is in violation of UN resolutions about its nuclear program. What the radio did not say is that the representatives also agreed that they disagree about a plan of action:

Mr Burns, number three in the US State Department, told journalists: "We certainly do not yet have an agreement. This is going to require more talks in New York and our ministers are going to have to meet, no question about it."

Dennis Ross seems to think the solution is for the US to talk directly with Iran. Direct talks mediated by Ross were so successful in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, that Ross naturally assumes the same method should be used in Iran. What's that you say? Oh, the Israeli-Palestinian talks were not very successful. Well don't quibble. Nobody is perfetc. In the best case, Iran and the US will meet and talk, and talk, and talk and talk. As in the Oslo peace process, the talks will go on for eight years. Meanwhile, the centrifuges will be spinning and spinning and spinning, separating out the nice fissionable uranium isotope.

Another way around the problem was found by Juan Cole, who seems intent on sanitizing the Iranian regime. If we can imagine that Iran is a relatively harmless state, like Pakistan, then their acquisition of nuclear technology doesn't pose such a problem. According to Cole, Mr Ahmadinejad never said that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, and therefore the entire crisis is a fabrication of Zionists, who have a grudge against Iran. Apparently he has the best of intentions toward America and Israel. "Great Satan" and "A world without Zionism and America" are terms of affection. "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good; please don't let me be misunderstood." Actually, Cole is right. Ahmadinejad apparently didn't say "wipe Israel off the map." What he did say is that a world without America and Zionism can be achieved, and that the Ayatollah Khomeini set this goal. He quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini on these points. He was at a "World Without Zionism" conference and he stood under a banner that read "A world without Zionism. He said that the "stain" called Israel would be removed from the Islamic world. Following are part of his remarks:

'The issue of this [World without Zionism] conference is very valuable. In this very grave war, many people are trying to scatter grains of desperation and hopelessness regarding the struggle between the Islamic world and the front of the infidels, and in their hearts they want to empty the Islamic world.

"'... They [ask]: 'Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism?' But you had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved.

"'When the dear Imam [Khomeini] said that [the Shah's] regime must go, and that we demand a world without dependent governments, many people who claimed to have political and other knowledge [asked], 'Is it possible [that the Shah's regime can be toppled]?'

"'That day, when Imam [Khomeini] began his movement, all the powers supported [the Shah's] corrupt regime. and said it was not possible. However, our nation stood firm, and by now we have, for 27 years, been living without a government dependent on America. Imam [Khomeini] said: 'The rule of the East [U.S.S.R.] and of the West [U.S.] should be ended.' But the weak people who saw only the tiny world near them did not believe it.

"'Nobody believed that we would one day witness the collapse of the Eastern Imperialism [i.e. the U.S.S.R], and said it was an iron regime. But in our short lifetime we have witnessed how this regime collapsed in such a way that we must look for it in libraries, and we can find no literature about it.

"'Imam [Khomeini] said that Saddam [Hussein] must go, and that he would be humiliated in a way that was unprecedented. And what do you see today? A man who, 10 years ago, spoke as proudly as if he would live for eternity is today chained by the feet, and is now being tried in his own country...

"'Imam [Khomeini] said: 'This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.' This sentence is very wise. The issue of Palestine is not an issue on which we can compromise.

"'Is it possible that an [Islamic] front allows another front [i.e. country] to arise in its [own] heart? This means defeat, and he who accepts the existence of this regime [i.e. Israel] in fact signs the defeat of the Islamic world.


"'I do not doubt that the new wave which has begun in our dear Palestine and which today we are also witnessing in the Islamic world is a wave of morality which has spread all over the Islamic world. Very soon, this stain of disgrace [i.e. Israel] will vanish from the center of the Islamic world - and this is attainable.

Since the Ayatollah Khomeini was the Marj al Taqlid and stand-in for the 12th Imam on earth, his words carry some weight. You can judge what Ahmadinejad really said here and Christopher Hitchens also takes up the the claims of Juan Cole here.

Cole tells us what he thinks is the "real" reason for US alarm over Iran:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, now in a coma, urged the U.S. to hit Iran as soon as it had taken care of Saddam Hussein.

Cole doesn't give his sources. It is unlikely that there is any such public statement on record. Perhaps the twelfth Imam talks to Juan Cole, as he talks to President Ahmadinejad. Actually what was said in 2003 apparently was something like this:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Iran, Libya and Syria should be stripped of weapons of mass destruction after Iraq. "These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons mass destruction, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve," Sharon said to a visiting delegation of American congressmen.

Sharon told the congressmen that Israel was not involved in the war with Iraq "but the American action is of vital importance."

In a meeting with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton yesterday, Sharon said that Israel was concerned about the security threat posed by Iran, and stressed that it was important to deal with Iran even while American attention was focused on Iraq.

Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials that he had no doubt America would attack Iraq, and that it would be necessary thereafter to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Nobody mentioned "hitting" Iran, and it was a US official who said that it would be necessary to "deal with" threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea. Nobody is talking about a US invasion of North Korea. Perhaps Professor Cole had a defective translation.

Cole also has a novel reason that explains why Israel supposedly wants the United States to attack Iran:

The Israelis have a grudge against it because it helped end their military occupation and land grab in southern Lebanon by giving aid to the Shiite Hezbollah organization, the only Arab force ever to succeed in regaining occupied land from Israel by military means. But Iran does not form a conventional military threat to Israel.

Actually, Ahmadinejad, who wants a world without America and Zionism, professedly is aiming to end the US occupation of Washington DC, which has gone on for much longer than the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, and the Israeli occupation of Tel Aviv. If Israel wanted to wipe out every country that made it withdraw from somewhere, they would presumably start with the United States, which "made" Israel withdraw from Sinai in order to make peace with Egypt. Cole is right that at present Iran is not a conventional military threat to Israel. What does Israel a country of 5 million people, with an area of about eight thousand square miles, have to fear from tiny Iran, a peace loving and tolerant country with a population of 77 million? However, we aren't talking about a conventional military threat, but rather a nuclear threat. That is the point that Cole seems to miss.

From recent events, we can know that the US and EU do not have a plan. Iran's rejection of the UN deadline was a foregone conclusion. If they had had a plan, the Iranian "don't give a damn" would have triggered that plan. Instead it triggered a call for a summit meeting to be held on May 9, at which time it will be announced that the situation is viewed with the utmost gravity, and that therefore it will be decided to have another meeting presumably. This was already the outcome of the Paris summit held Tuesday.

The Iranians claim they are not making a bomb, just some nice reactor fuel. Evidently, nobody believes them, especially nobody in the Arab world. Articles in the Arab press (and here), for and against the Iranian cause, (and here and here and here and here ) have taken for granted that Iran is building the bomb. Not a few of them have speculated that Egypt and or Saudi Arabia would be tempted to build a bomb if Iran gets one. This brings us to the important and probable repercussions of the Iranian bomb, aside from doomsday scenarios of nuclear destruction. Those also have a certain degree of probability, but there are other effects that are virtually certain, and they are somewhat interrelated.

Contrary to what Professor Cole would have you believe, Israel is not the only country that has a "grudge," as he puts it, against Iran. At least, we have to believe that either Arab countries are worried about the Iranian nuclear program, or else Dar Al-Hayatt and As Sharq al-Awsat have been infiltrated by the nefarious Zionists. Tariq al-Humayd commented in As Sharq al Awsat of April 13, in Arabic, that the silence of Gulf states about Iran was inexplicable:

...The question is whether the United States is on the borders of Iran or on our own borders? Also, whether petroleum is only a US quest or also our own bread and water?

The problem of Iran is that it is dangerous without nuclear power! Iran is in Lebanon, and it is in Iraq. Its fingers are in Bahrain. It occupies three Emirates island. Its breath is in the Levant, and it has become the Mecca of HAMAS, even if by mere smiles. There are some leaders of Al-Qa'ida on its territory. Thus Iran is bigger than to be ignored by the politicians, and more dangerous than to be trusted by those seeking stability. Unfortunately, Iran is good at the game of escalation. Iran also always plays on confusing the cards, and its words are the opposite of its deeds.

Abdul Rahman al Rashed commented in As Sharq al-Awsat in English on April 16::

The governments of the region did not believe Iran before, and they will not believe it in the future when it admits that it possesses a nuclear weapon, claiming that it is aimed against Israel only. In the past it has previously used military force to attack Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates and occupied the last of its islands in 1991. It had also intercepted Qatari warships in the Gulf waters. It is no secret that it also has a hand in the security problems in Bahrain, in addition to its exposed activity in Iraq.

After the Iranians have become very close to possessing nuclear weapons, we should ask whether time is ripe now to adopt a balance of deterrence as a policy for the countries of the region. In other words, mounting another nuclear weapon to confront the Iranian nuclear weapon.

On April 22, in an article entitled "Why We Fear Iran," Al Rashed wrote:

The Gulf Arabs, however, believe that the power of Iranian nuclear deterrence represents the biggest danger of a military threat. The conflict with Iran, although it is calm for now, could erupt at any moment. This is in addition to the fact that even without the nuclear escalation, there is a real fear of Iranian expansion in southern Iraq, which is adjacent to the Saudi-Kuwaiti borders.

The Middle East is a scary place for its rulers. They are beset by social unrest, and by the designs of other Middle Eastern countries to take advantage of that unrest, and by the designs of various non-Middle Eastern powers. Most Middle Eastern countries do not have much independent industrial capacity and cannot feed themselves. They are dependent on the outside world for food, machine parts, automobiles, airplanes, computers and all the paraphernalia of modern society. That means they must have both outside trading partners and a strong patron. This is especially true of oil-rich Gulf countries, whose riches are coveted by many. Throughout most of the Middle East, the US is presently that patron. Among other things, the US is expected to protect these countries against Iran.

In this chess game, President Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe out Israel are mostly part of the effort to gain regional leadership. Whoever leads the fight against Israel leads the Muslim world. This was the role of Egypt until 1977. Saddam Hussein tried to aspire to that role but didn't succeed, and now Iran wants to do so. It seems that this is taken for granted by most Arab commentators.

Iran's more or less avowed aim in acquiring "nuclear technology" - whether or not they acquire an actual atomic weapon - is to become a regional power, and to push the US out of the Gulf and out of the Middle East. That's the real game and all of Iran's neighbors understand it. Iranian acquisition of the bomb or of nuclear technology despite US opposition would considerably weaken the standing of the US and strengthen that of Iran. This will precipitate two results. The first which is very probable, is that the US would be supplanted in the Middle East by a different superpower. Both Russia and China have their eye in that goal. The second is that eventually, every country in the Middle East perhaps, beginning with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will want to acquire nuclear "technology."

It is improbable at this juncture that Egypt or Saudi Arabia would develop the bomb, as they are too dependent on the USA, but it is not impossible. If the influence of the US in the Middle East is really weakened by Iranian acquisition of nuclear technology and or the bomb, then of course it may become "every man for himself." Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and perhaps some other countries, would need to acquire some atomic weapons. They would need those weapons both as an actual deterrent, and because without them they would have to take a back seat to Iran in the Middle East power game. We are not there yet, but it can happen.

What is virtually certain is that In that scenario, US influence would probably not be replaced by Iranian influence, as the Iranians might be thinking, but rather by a different super power, such as China or Russia. Both of them have the cash to fuel military supply programs and the technology to help nuclear programs. China's bid for Middle East influence may explain its reluctance to supply sanctions to Iran, which is also a good source of oil for China.

Nuclear weapons have generally not proved to be the panacea for regional power or world power that people assume it is. Having a modern economy and or a large or effective conventional army is probably far more important. Getting the bomb didn't put Pakistan or North Korea or India (or Israel for that matter) in the same rank as the United States or Britain or France. Russia still has the bomb, but doesn't have the stature it had 30 years ago. Germany does not have the bomb, but is not really much less influential in foreign affairs than France, and the difference is probably just as attributable to the French seat on the UN Security Council and the German reluctance to deploy troops internationally.

Iran plus bomb is still Iran. It can't supply the needs of Saudi Arabia or Yemen or Egypt for automobiles and airplanes and cellphones. It doesn't have the overwhelming military force of a superpower either. Iran fought Iraq for many years but they didn't beat Iraq. The US conquered Iraq in a few weeks. Iran will not become a superpower "just like daddy" just by dressing up in daddy's clothes. Iran with a bomb or a nuclear fuel cycle, crippled by international sanctions, is going to be much weaker than Iran would be without a bomb, but enjoying free trade and international support. That is why the present course of Iranian policy is so ominous. Given that they are pursuing nuclear technology rather than lifting of sanctions and improvement of relations with the west, their policy can hardly be rational. When they attain the bomb, and find that it doesn't serve their goals of wiping out the United States and Israel, they will become very frustrated. Frustration breeds desperation and desperation breeds irrationality.

What to do about it is another matter. It should be clear to everyone that the reports that were leaked to the press about Israeli plans to attack Iran were bogus. Israel doesn't leak real military plans to the press. If Israel intends to attack the Iranian nuclear program, you won't read the plans in a Sunday tabloid beforehand, In that context, the remarks of Chief of Staff Halutz are important. Asked whether the world could deal with the Iranian bomb militarily, Halutz said: "Yes, yes. Regarding whether or not the world can, the answer is yes." Likewise, the US is not about to attack Iran. We know that because Secretary Rice and others are already threatening that the US will act to put pressure on Iran outside the framework of the UN, where they are stymied by Chinese and Russian vetos, which means they aren't really planning a military strike.

Whatever is done about the Iranian threat, making believe it is not there will not really make it go away. Ahmadinejad means to get his world without America and Zionism. This should be of concern at least to Americans and Zionists. On the way to his goal, he will probably want a world without the current regimes of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and a few other places.

Ami Isseroff

Copyright 2006 by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence - http://www.mideastweb.org. This article may be forwarded by email with this notice. Other uses require explicit written permission. You are most welcome to link to this page. Do not post this article at your Web site.

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Replies: 9 comments

I'm no fan of Ross, but your treatment of Professor Cole is unwarranted.

I've actually been reading the IAEA reports. There's no evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

I wish the US would release more information about its ability to detect a uranium enrichment. It can be done from miles away. They don't want to because, naturally, it would more clearly indicate to potential nuclear arms builders the best way to hide their efforts.

Still, it keeps people in a mood of fear.

There is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. The _only_ evidence mentioned in the IAEA Board of Directors report of Febuary 15th was actually undermined over a year ago. A swab of highly enriched uranium that came from a peice of machinery Iran bought from another country which _had_ been using it with HEU.

The IAEA is clear that Iran is meeting commitments to the IAEA that no law on Earth says it has to fulfill.

And before I hear anyone say "Why does Iran even _need_ nuclear power, considering the amount of oil it has?" (something the Moderator doesn't seem to do here) it should be noted that, when the Shah was on the Peacock Throne, Nixon and Kissinger were selling Iran US-built nuclear power plants.

Egypt and KSA, as signatories to the NNPT, have the right to develop nuclear power, also.

Earthlings can only hope that they have very well trained Nuclear Scientists to do the job. Just the thing John Bolton considers to be part of a WMD program.

Posted by JS Narins @ 05/04/2006 12:39 AM CST

Another couple things.

Berlusconi is a Holocaust denier. He was part of the Coalition of the Shilling, I mean Willing.

The bit about a "grudge" does not appear in the article you linked to.

Posted by Josh Narins @ 05/04/2006 12:42 AM CST

"What to do about it is another matter. It should be clear to everyone that the reports that were leaked to the press about Israeli plans to attack Iran were bogus. Israel doesn't leak real military plans to the press."

What do you base this on Ami? Do you have souces in the Knesset? IDF? After all Cole should give his sources and so should you.

Also with regards to your criticsm of Dennis Ross' idea of direct talks. Comparing a peace proccess to talks over nuclear weapons is a terrible comparison. Israel and Egypt made peace so maybe U.S.-Iran could work something out.

Lastly what is your solution on Iran? Afterall you criticise everybody else you should have better plan up your sleeve?

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 05/05/2006 08:48 AM CST

To clarify The part about talks. Discussing a peace proccess and discussing the nuclear issue is two different but since you made the comparison I'll stick by my Egypt-Israel example.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 05/05/2006 08:50 AM CST

"Iran with a bomb or a nuclear fuel cycle, crippled by international sanctions, is going to be much weaker than Iran would be without a bomb, but enjoying free trade and international support."

Here you are making nothing more than a mere assumption. Is the UN going to put sanctions on Iran? You yourself said China and Russai won't let it happen:

We know that because Secretary Rice and others are already threatening that the US will act to put pressure on Iran outside the framework of the UN, where they are stymied by Chinese and Russian vetos, which means they aren't really planning a military strike.

You also said that nations are in disagreement on what to do. If anything this gives Iran more leverage in developing a nuclear bomb. Also what U.S. pressure? The gas prices are giving Americans a stir in the U.S.. Sanctioning Iran won't neccessarly do the U.S. any good especailly if Iran uses oil as a weapon.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 05/05/2006 09:02 AM CST

Also you mentioned this about Cole:

Mr Ahmadinejad never said that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, and therefore the entire crisis is a fabrication of Zionists, who have a grudge against Iran.

I do not know if you were being sarcastic but using a Zionism website to discredit Juan Cole was not a good idea. Your quote refferred to a claim that Cole hinted a Zionist fabrication but then you used a Zionist website as your source to disprove him. You should provide an outsource instead.

As far as I could tell Juan Cole never mentioned Zionism. You might have committed strawman fallacy in your argument there.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 05/05/2006 09:18 AM CST


Posted by MENDEL @ 05/05/2006 09:45 AM CST

I would concur that there is a bit of straw-man-ism here with regard to Juan Cole. What he did was to query the usual western press translation of Ahmadinejad's remarks as "wipe Israel off the map" on the grounds that there is no such phrase in Farsi. He did this on a private e-mail list and Hitchens somehow got hold of the e-mail.

Cole has elsewhere defined Ahmadinejad as "a horse's ass" over the issue of holocaust denial and says that he despises everything he stands for.

He also points out that Ahmadinejad has very little actual power in Iran as the real decisions are made by clerics not by elected politicians.

Regarding the other issues you raise, the friction between Sunni and Shia and between Arabs and Persians is well known; I presume comments by Arab regimes on Iran are not to be given any greater weight than their comments on Israel? And the only major war between 'modern' Iran and the Arabs was started by the Arabs, in the person of S. Hussein.

The point that Iran is nowhere near developing a nuclear weapon is well made above.

The implication that Iran will somehow become "irrational" in a future scenario, by which I assume you mean launch a nuclear first strike against Israel, seems a bit of a stretch also. For one thing, they not nuke Israel without killing huge numbers of Palestinians and polluting the land with fallout. Secondly, Israeli/US retribution would be swift and merciless. It's not really that likely, is it? (Preventing an invasion of Iran by the USA would seem an entirely rational reason for having nukes, on the other hand).

Furthermore, no matter how large and populous Iran may be, the idea that they would be able to cross the intervening Arab lands and invade Israel is also a non-starter. (And if they had an interest in killing Jews per se, there are several thousand living relatively unmolested in Iran).

Where Iran does pose a threat is that it can fund terrorist movements in Palestine and elsewhere. Having a nuclear capability doesn't affect that either way.

Finally, you fail to note anywhere in your commentary that Israel sold weapons to the Iranian Islamic Republic in the 1980's, when Khomeini was making the comments you quote. I think that has some bearing on the real level of threat perceived by the Israeli state.

Posted by Chris @ 05/08/2006 07:33 PM CST

wow, this is very nice,
I really like this information to know that the US can't do anything and the regim of Bush will have gone one day.
the best

Posted by Sohrab Navaee-Ardeh @ 05/11/2006 12:50 PM CST

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